May 14, 2010

PULLING THE DRAGON'S TEETH:

Why Factories Are Leaving China: A labor shortage is trimming margins for exporters, who are moving to Vietnam, India, and elsewhere (Dexter Roberts, 5/13/10, BW Magazine)

As costs climbed in Taiwan two decades ago, Ben Fan moved his lighting factory to take advantage of China's cheap labor. Now, with Chinese wages on the rise, he's moving again. "It's just like what happened in Taiwan," says Fan, chairman of Neo-Neon Holdings, which sells lamps and lighting fixtures to big retailers including Home Depot (HD), Target (TGT), and Wal-Mart (WMT). "Chinese don't want to work in factories anymore."

So Fan is expanding his factory in Vietnam, where wages are $100 a month, one-third what he pays in China. He plans to shift 85 percent of his production across the border, and by December he'll have 8,000 workers in Vietnam—up from 300 a year ago—and just 5,000 in China, down from 25,000 in 2008.

Over the past two years, millions of jobs have moved to China's interior or elsewhere in Asia as factory owners try to cut costs. In Guangdong, the mainland's top exporting province, wages have almost doubled in the past three years, and more than half the factories can't find enough workers. The number of migrants who traveled to coastal provinces for work fell by 9 percent last year, to 91 million. "This lack of labor will only get worse," says Willy Lin, chairman of the Textile Council of Hong Kong, a trade association.

Factory owners complain that the higher wages are devastating profits, especially as their customers continue to squeeze them for lower prices.


The most remarkable thing about China is that its decline is going to come when it has achieved such a low standard of living. Japan, comparatively, became one of the most advanced economies before it began its slide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 14, 2010 6:38 AM
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